What are the telltale signs of a hacker controlling your smartphone?
Mobility is proving essential for everyone especially for senior managers and professionals who spend much of their time out of their office, either attending meetings or traveling on business. Mobile devices and connectivity has transformed the way work is done efficiently, using light, hand held smartphones and tablets as opposed to computers.
They view mobility and the ability to bring your own device (BYOD) as a “right”, not a privilege. This momentum cannot be realistically halted now.
Smartphones, tablets and laptops are merely end points and locking them down is complex and unmanageable. They are not cheap, but can be replaced at reasonable cost. This fails to provide a real solution to the challenge of protecting the data that mobile users still need to do their jobs. The data, however, is often priceless and irreplaceable.
Windows infections such as virus, malware, Trojan infections, adware and spyware may slow systems to a crawl, begin redirecting browsers to arbitrary websites or search engines, trigger pop-up ads, block access to information security websites, disable security software, alter the user interface, or email everyone in the address book, leading to a flurry of outraged emails, bounce-backs, and warnings from recipients. But, some infections leave no signs at all.
As with some Windows infections, some Android malware might sport telltale signs of infection. Recent versions of the Android operating system, as well as antivirus software, can help spot and block malware-infection attempts. However, be sure to also watch for some telltale warning signs discussed below.
Malware used for financial means will linger after infecting devices, while the opportunistic malware comes with a wrapper of a free popular application. The installer will prompt the user to SMS subscription before downloading and installing a free version of the application. Users will then be billed for SMS messages sent to premium numbers. The user will usually spot odd charges on mobile phone statements.
Malicious apps might also be “phoning home” regularly. In this case, the user may encounter unusual data access patterns and usage when reviewing sent and received data on their smartphones. This discrepancy between data used by the user and the applications may be a sign of “parasitic activity” such as a malware that has turned the device into a spam relay.
Some Android Trojans are battery conscious and remain stealthy, sometimes staying dormant for a period of time before carrying out transactions with a financial impact. Poorly coded software with a malware might also lead to excessive battery drain. However, a lower-than-usual battery life may be due to an operating system upgrade or, also, a buggy app recently installed instead of malware.
A ploy known as “juice jacking” in the security industry is based on the same concept as ATM skimming. A hacker could set up a fake phone charging station or tamper with an existing one to immediately steal data or install a programme on the phone to steal it later. While charging stations in high-profile areas like airports and shopping malls are probably safe, fake charging stations could crop up anywhere, especially with numerous no-name companies renting them out to special events. A hidden device that a “technician” packed inside the charger will mine your phone for personal data, stealing all your saved passwords and bathroom mirror self-portraits, and subscriber toll dialling for a good amount of your money. It is always better to carry your own charger and find an electrical outlet to charge your smartphone.
If you have good mobile security software installed, then it’s highly unlikely that a malware will be encountered. Hence, while it can be assumed that the smartphone is absolutely secure, if it has an up-to-date antivirus software, this may not be an airtight assumption. Hackers can infiltrate a phone through the airwaves, completely bypassing the operating system and antivirus software to hack directly into the radio processor. This aerial attack requires a special box that acts like a cellphone tower and tricks the phone into thinking it is connecting to a real network. Once the connection is made, the hackers have access to everything that the radio processor controls i.e., the dialler, the microphone and on some phone models, possibly the camera, too. A phoney cell tower can remotely and silently “answer” your phone and broadcast any conversations within earshot to prying ears.
Whatever security tools you might be using, be sure to watch for the telltale warning signs I just warned you about. If you spot strange phone charges, give your operator or your bank a call. While they may not be able to give your money back, they can surely help minimise your financial impact. You must regularly back up your devices to secured servers. If you accidentally install a malicious app on your smartphone or tablet, you then at least have the option of rolling your device back to its pre-infected state and restoring your data.
(The writer is a Governance, Risk and Compliance professional and Director at Layers-7
Seguro Consultoria (Pvt) Ltd.
He can be emailed at